The University of Richmond’s theatre and dance department staged a dress rehearsal of “The Story” Wednesday night, ahead of a weekend of sold-out performances. 

Although the night’s dress rehearsal wasn’t listed on the UR events calendar or the Modlin Center for the Arts’ webpage, many students still made it out to watch the performance. The show was set to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the basement stage of the Modlin Center.

The venue was mostly full by the time the lights dimmed.

Several of the students in attendance found out about the performance from their professors.

Griffin Myers, a junior, had found out about the dress rehearsal opportunity from Betsy Mullen, her News Media and Society professor. 

Myers was camped out on the floor of the Modlin Center lobby before showtime, working on some homework. She was one of the students who got to the Modlin Center early for the best chance of getting into the performance. Myers had heard a classmate rave about the previous dress rehearsal and came with high expectations, she said. 

“It’s supposed to be really good,” she said. “This’ll be a nice break, though, from this ... bio paper.”

The show, set to be held on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, was sold out online for each of the performances, according to the Modlin Center’s webpage. 

Senior Toan Nguyen originally hadn’t heard much about "The Story," but he said he took the show’s sold-out status as “indicative” of its quality. Nguyen was attending the dress rehearsal for his Theatre Appreciation class. 

“I can’t say that I’ve heard of this show before,” Nguyen said. “I have no idea what to expect of the plot.”

"The Story," directed by associate professor of theatre Chuck Mike, is part of the UR Free Theatre and Dance initiative. Tickets for all shows in the play’s run at UR are free. 

The initiative, according to its webpage, was created to help remove the economic barrier that can prevent theater and dance performances from being accessible to all. 

Sharon Feldman, the interim chair of the department of theatre and dance, explained that this new free initiative was central to the department’s mission. 

“We are committed to diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice, and we believe that there are many works throughout theater history, such as 'The Story,' that can contribute to this mission,” Feldman said. “As interim chair, I should clarify that I did not take part in the selection process last year, so I cannot comment specifically on why 'The Story' was chosen, but I have no doubt that the play is an extremely timely choice that serves our mission.”

The play’s description references the real-life example of Janet Cooke, a Washington Post journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her story “Jimmy’s World.” The story, which centered around an eight-year-old heroin addict, was later revealed to be completely fabricated. 

“The Story” follows a slightly different narrative – it’s not quite the tale of Janet Cooke, but it echoes Cooke’s story. 

The play, written by Tracey Scott Wilson, centers around Yvonne Robinson, an ambitious black reporter who hopes to rise in the newsroom ranks. As Robinson and her colleagues dive deeper into a recent murder and a sensational potential perpetrator, issues of race, class, community, truth and ethics bubble to the surface. 

In the smaller basement venue, the audience surrounds the performers, with rows of chairs on all four sides of the stage. The actors are often facing different directions, giving viewers in each seating section a different experience of the play. 

Another nontraditional aspect of the play was the use of elevated screens above the stage. There was a screen visible to each section of the audience, where audience members could see, for example, a character’s Facebook feed as she scrolled through an iPad.

Signs on the door to the venue warned the audience that the play would use gunshot sound effects and flashing lights. 

The play also made use of cross talk, with actors speaking simultaneously, finishing each other’s sentences and acting out concurrent scenes on different sides of the stage. 

Blocked out with four desks onstage, action would rotate from desk to desk, with each section representing different settings, from a detective’s office to newsroom departments. Certain characters, such as Yvonne Robinson, played by sophomore India Henderson, were onstage for almost all of the play’s runtime, about one hour and 15 minutes. 

Myers took particular notice of the play’s creative use of screens. 

“That was intense,” she said, after the show had ended. “I really liked how they incorporated social media.”

The show is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Alice Jepson Theater from Nov. 15 -17, and for 2 p.m. on Nov. 18.

But according to the event’s program, three more free theater and dance performances will be offered during the 2018-2019 season, including the Production Studies III Showcase in February, "In/Motion": University Dancers in March and “Caroline, or Change” in April.

Contact features writer Molly Brind'Amour at molly.brindamour@richmond.edu.